Debate Begins About Fuel Ratings on Electric Cars

By dancurranjr On September 23rd, 2009

toyota-electric-solarAs the government hammers out how it will rate the fuel efficiency of hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles, an Israeli company wants to make sure the U.S. gets it right.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a draft proposal for computing an efficiency rating using a “miles per gallon” scale but is not close to issuing a final ruling. It would be a rating buyers could use to compare various vehicles.

ETV Motors, a company that specializes in self-charging hybrid-electric propulsion systems for cars, has suggested in a letter to the EPA that the government consider a new multiple standard. CEO Dror Ben-David says ETV advocates a three-pronged rating for fuel efficiency: one number to show how far the car can go on a single plug-in battery charge, a second number to show how energy intensive the battery is, and a third for how much gasoline it consumes to drive a generator or the wheels when the battery runs out. Ben-David says the U.S. decision is important. “Most of the world looks at the United States as the standard provider and will adopt what the U.S. is doing.”

Even though no plug-in electric vehicles have yet hit the market in significant numbers, debate has begun over efficiency claims. Using an EPA draft proposal, General Motors has forecast that its plug-in Chevrolet Volt electric car will be rated at 230 mpg (it will go 40 miles per plug-in charge before the gas engine comes on to generate electricity), though the EPA cannot confirm that. Nissan, using different numbers from the Department of Energy, claims its Leaf plug-in car, an all-electric with no engine to burn gas, will get the equivalent of 367 mpg.

Says Ben-David, “A single number is not good enough. … It might be a bit misleading.”

Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says there are a variety of other ways the government could set a standard to cover plug-in electrics, but no option is simple.

He says they could measure the car’s greenhouse gas emissions, a number that goes up when a vehicle consumes more gasoline or other fossil fuel. But that rating would also need to include how much carbon dioxide is emitted by power plants that generate electricity to recharge the car’s battery when it is plugged in.

And using an mpg rating formula may be misleading, Kliesch says, because people may not get that efficiency in the real world, depending on their usage patterns and how much or how little the onboard “range-extender” engine is needed.

“It’s really critical that the test procedure that’s decided on accurately reflects what people are going to experience,” he says. “Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.”

Source: USA Today

Electric, Plug-In Hybrids Ready to Hit the Streets

By dancurranjr On September 9th, 2009

telsa roadsterElectric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are two technologies that automakers are trying to develop for mainstream use, but two upstart California companies are leading the alternative vehicle world. Tesla Motors already sells the only electric vehicle legal for highway use, while Fisker Automotive stands to be the first to bring a plug-in hybrid to market.

The Fisker Karma is a stylish sedan with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Also known as a series hybrid, it differs from the hybrids on the roads today in that the gasoline engine acts as a generator only. It has no mechanical connection to drive the wheels. The Karma will drive the first 50 miles on electric power only, after which the gasoline engine will start up as needed to make electricity.

The Karma captures energy used to slow the car down via regenerative braking. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same idea as the Chevrolet Volt. In fact, the Karma will use some General Motors parts, including the four-cylinder engine to supplement the hybrid electric drive provided by partner Quantum Technologies. The vehicles will be assembled in Finland by Valmet Automotive, builders of the Porsche Boxster

Designer and Chief Executive Officer Henrik Fisker styled cars for BMW and Aston Martin. Fisker showed the production version of the Karma at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in January, along with a concept version of a hardtop convertible. The Karma sedan made its first public “driving debut” earlier this month at the Laguna Seca Raceway.

Orders are being taken for both models, with deliveries of the Karma sedan scheduled to start in 2010. Prices start at $87,900. Fisker Automotive has chosen the Patrick and Fields dealer groups to market the Karma in the Chicago area. For now Fisker has decided to work with established dealers with experience in selling luxury brands rather than building new dealerships. They are also not requiring their dealers to stock vehicles beyond demo and display units.

The Tesla Roadster is a two-seat electric car with a stated range of 244 miles and 0-to-60 acceleration of 3.9 seconds. Lotus builds the chassis in England and assembles the bodies. It has a family resemblance to the Lotus Elise, though it actually shares very few parts. The electric motor, controller and lithium ion battery pack are installed at Tesla’s headquarters in San Carlos, Calif. The Roadster base price is $109,000 and qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Tesla also offers an even faster, more performance-oriented Roadster Sport.

Tesla Motors has already delivered more than 500 Roadsters. “We are opening our first stores based on the number of current customers we have in each market. We already have several dozen Roadsters on the roads in Chicago and the Chicagoland region,” said Rachel Konrad, Tesla spokesperson.

Tesla is opening a stand-alone store at 1053 W. Grand Ave. in Chicago, with a VIP customer reception on Sept. 10 followed by a public open house the next two days. Tesla wants its locations, which are all company owned, to be more like Apple stores or Starbuck’s than a traditional car dealership.

The master plan is to launch a new car, built in California, in 2012.

“In addition to having numerous customers in the area for the Roadster, we anticipate that the region will be an excellent one for the Model S sedan [below], which is our next car,” Konrad said. “The Model S has half the sticker price of the Roadster and will also be offered in all-wheel drive, which a lot of customers want in the upper Midwest.”

When asked how the sporty alternative Roadster might fare in our climate, Konrad said, “It’s important to note that we do our cold-weather testing literally on a frozen lake in Sweden near the Arctic Circle. We do our hot-weather battery testing in south Texas. Two of our best national markets outside of the United States are Canada and Norway. So it’s very safe to say that we do not have problems in cold weather.

Also, we offer two hard-top options on the Roadster and as you can imagine they are very popular in northern climates, while the standard soft-top is popular in California, Texas, Florida and Hawaii.”

Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Power Systems at a Glance

By dancurranjr On September 7th, 2009

phev-voltHybrids like Toyota’s Prius and plug-in vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt run on systems other than purely gas-fired engines.

The systems, or powertrains, that drive the so-called greener cars use electricity generated by batteries and electric motors to either supplement or largely take the place of internal-combustion engines.

THE VOLT: The Chevrolet Volt, billed as a rechargeable electric car, gets most of its power from an electric motor and a battery pack with a 40-mile range. It also has a small internal-combustion engine that kicks in after the battery runs out of juice.

The Volt’s battery pack can be recharged from a standard home outlet.

General Motors Co. expects the Volt to get 230 mpg in the city, based on early tests using draft guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for calculating mileage of extended range electric vehicles.

GM officials say the fuel savings will at least partially offset the vehicle’s projected $40,000 price tag.

TRADITIONAL HYBRIDS: The Volt’s mileage could be a vast improvement over that of traditional hybrids, such as Toyota’s popular Prius, which combines an internal-combustion engine with a special hybrid battery that boosts fuel efficiency.

The newest version of the Prius starts at about $22,000 and gets an EPA estimated 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway.

Other hybrid models use different forms of powertrain technology and don’t achieve the dramatic jump in mpg that the Prius does. For example, the Chevy Malibu hybrid, which starts at $25,555, gets up to 26 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

By comparison, the purely gas-powered Malibu, priced at $21,605, gets up to 22 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

With a nearly $4,000 premium on the hybrid model, consumers need to consider fuel prices, along with how much they plan to drive the vehicle, in deciding whether the extra cost is worth it.

ALL ELECTRIC: The Volt is expected to compete against high-end electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Roadster, which has a range of 224 miles, but also comes with a $100,000-plus price tag. Tesla is also working on an electric family sedan that will be priced considerably less.